Ministry doesn’t foresee emergency drug purchases in 2018 – Lawrence

The controversial $632M drug acquisitions earlier this year and a more recent billion-dollar bid for pharmaceutical supplies for Regional Health Services will be the only “huge” emergency purchases in 2017 as plans are on stream to eliminate this type of procurement in 2018.

Volda Lawrence

So says Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence who announced that as soon as September this year, tenders will be advertised for the 2018 supply of pharmaceuticals and supplies in an attempt to avoid a repeat of this year’s purchasing woes.

“We are going to advertise (tenders) in September for the 2018 supplies. That in itself ought to eliminate that (emergency purchases). It is geared to start the process,” Lawrence told Stabroek News last week when questioned on the matter.

“We are trying to fill that hole now so you have enough to tend you over,” the Minister also noted.

The $632m purchases by four companies for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) have been found to be illegal and Lawrence came under scrutiny after she disclosed that she had fast-tracked the acquisitions because of the need for supplies at the hospital and because of improprieties in the system. She later clarified that she had nothing to do with the actual procurement process. The GPHC has conducted its own probe of the matter at Lawrence’s behest and the purchases have also been investigated by the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

It was only in May of this year that the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH)  invited tenders for the supply and delivery of pharmaceutical and medical supplies for the 2017 period. Nine companies submitted tenders for the delivery and supply of pharmaceuticals while 10 companies tendered for medical supplies.

Tenders submitted for that contract were opened on July 18th last but the evaluation period of the bids would not be completed until August of this year. Bidders who did not win would have to be notified and pending no objections, a contract would be awarded shortly after. However, the awardee is given three months to deliver the said supplies and this process would run into November of this year.

Tenders for two other emergency supplies of pharmaceuticals for the regional health sector were also opened this month. On July 12th four companies submitted bids, some for over $1B, for that contract which has 44 lots.

On July 19th only one company, HDM labs incorporated, bid for similar emergency supply services. That time it was for the procurement of Emergency Pharmaceutical Supplies for the Regional and Clinic Service and the bid was pegged at some US$1.8M.

Permanent Secretary of MoPH Colette Adams explained to Stabroek News that those emergency tenders were placed by the respective regions.


No plans

She assured that the MoPH has no plans to seek further bulk emergency purchases only if a potential health threat warning is given or the nation faces a large outbreak of sicknesses.

The Minister of Public Health echoed the position of her Permanent Secretary. “As PS said the Ministry of Health made one emergency purchase…but you would have to if there is an outbreak of something, or you may get a notice from PAHO or WHO that you need to stock up on this. Then we may have to purchase more …”, Lawrence noted.

Observers and some suppliers have questioned why the 2017 process started so late, since it means that as the ministry awaits its 2017 purchase, all drugs needed would have to be bought on an emergency basis.

This procedure, one bidder explained is costly because air freight prices are sometimes double and it also lends to less scrutiny of purchases since drugs are mostly single-sourced when purchased as an emergency.

Lawrence pointed to the newly established procurement department of MoPH, which would be responsible for contract management, including ensuring that suppliers deliver drugs after they are paid saying that it was all put in place for a smooth running of the procurement and supply system next year.

An analysis of the system she said found that the MoPH could not wait until next year to put the requisite measures in place and as such has “started the ball rolling from now.”

She has also said that the new procurement process will bring closure to the country’s ongoing drug shortage since it was found that in the past the procuring of drugs was not “properly forecasted and catered to.”

With the 2018 Budget to be read in November of this year, the Ministry has begun its work to have a smooth transition.

Lawrence said, “Budget is passed in November, then in January we have our stuff to put out there and get going. That is why these (emergency) medical supplies and drugs that are coming in should give us a buffer for the first quarter. So by the time we get all the paperwork and the long story you have to go through… that next set of orders for 2018 should start coming in. We have to start the process in this year that is what we found out.”

She said that taking the human factor into account she does not want to give exact timelines and would instead anticipate that all systems would be in place and work as should. “Because we are dealing with human beings and not dealing with a computerized system I would say we ought to. As someone who has an accounting background, I would say that we ought to. You always have to put the human factor inside. It is geared to start the process,” the minister noted.

Earlier this year, some $632M was received in drugs following the controversial procuring, where ANSA McAL was awarded $605M and the New GPC, Health 2000 and Chirosyn Discovery split the remainder.

The purchases were drawn to the public’s notice by Stabroek News in March and Lawrence came in for harsh criticisms for her role. A GPHC investigation, which Lawrence initiated found that she was not to blame.

The Board found that the now dismissed Chief Executive Officer  Alan Johnson had acted “recklessly” in initiating the procurement but did not find any evidence Lawrence gave any instructions for the procurement procedures to be bypassed.

On the GPHC report, Lawrence told Stabroek News last week that she was confident from the probe’s inception that she did not violate the law and this would be revealed for all to see.

“I have spoken the truth from day one so I don’t have to feel validated. As a Guyanese I feel that Guyanese are not accustomed to people talking the truth, they always feel is some lil thing going on behind the scene. I know who I am and had no reason to lie,” she asserted.

“I know what I did and know what I said. I have a long history of government accounting so I know where my boundaries are. As I would say ‘Yuh cyan geh pot spoon and stir with yuh hands. I can’t get PS and do her work. I can’t do her work, she has to do her work, and likewise she can’t sign and say she is minister,” she added.

The PPC report into the matter  is to be handed over to Parliament before it goes into recess next month.

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